Infant Deaths Climbing
By Candia Dames
26 April 2006
Statistics from the Ministry of Healthís Information and Research Unit confirm a recent claim made by Opposition Leader Hubert Ingraham that the countryís infant mortality rate is on the way up.
Mr. Ingraham raised alarm over the increase Monday night saying that efforts by his administration drove the infant mortality rate from more than 24 per thousand live births to below 12.
"We expected to bring it to single digits by 2004," he said. "Instead, under this neglectful government it has risen again to 19 per thousand live births.
Why are we moving in reverse?"
The infant mortality rate is considered internationally to be a sound indicator of a nationís health and development.
Information from the Ministry of Health, however, does not provide any evidence to show that the figure has risen to 19. The most recent data available is for the year 2004 when the rate was 17.3 deaths per 1,000 births, up from 12.7 deaths per 1,000 in 2001.
Minister of Health Dr. Bernard Nottage was not available yesterday to comment on the matter, as Tuesday is a day when the Cabinet meets most of the day. But in a press statement issued early yesterday, he responded to Mr. Ingrahamís claim by saying only that there is no connection between the infant mortality rate and a shortage of vaccines.
No other health official would return the Journalís calls yesterday either, but the Journal was able to obtain a copy of what is reportedly the minutes of a meeting of health officials that took place on Friday.
In the minutes, a senior nursing officer stated that the meeting had been called to discuss the ministerís mandate to strategize ways to reduce the infant mortality rate and the maternal mortality rate "as both were on the rise".
Officials reportedly plan to convert the Blue Hill Road Clinic into a Child Health facility, while Flemming Street Clinic will be converted into a Womenís Health Clinic, run by midwives.
The senior nursing officer quoted in the minutes impressed upon the midwives that should the need arise, they should inform persons inquiring about the vaccine shortage that supply should be available in about two weeks.
She said that the midwives should explain that the government does not owe any money for vaccines, but that there was a misunderstanding between the Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which has since been cleared up.
In its statement to the press yesterday, the Ministry of Health acknowledged that there is a shortage of supply of the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine due to an error in the billing by its suppliers.
The ministry said through no fault of its own, the suppliers had failed to send an invoice for some $865 and held up the latest order when they did not receive payment. It is this mistake, the ministry said, which was corrected as soon as it was discovered.
"I am happy to report, however, that an inventory has been carried out, which confirms that we do have in stock a supply of all vaccines, including MMR, although some individual clinics may not have supplies in their possession," Dr. Nottage reported in that statement.
"Additionally, there is a shortage of one of the components of the Pentavalent vaccine, and that is due to the fact that the manufacturer sent us supplies with differing expiration dates. There is no shortage of Polio, Diphtheria, Pertussis or Tetanus vaccines, all of which are in adequate supplies."
Dr. Nottage indicated that his ministry had made arrangements to obtain those vaccines that were in short supply and expected the delivery of those vaccines yesterday, which should be available to the public today.
But as mentioned, the statement said very little about the infant mortality rate.
In the health meeting minutes, another senior nursing officer in response to queries from the midwives present regarding the shortage of family planning/contraceptive methods said that there were no monies available for the purchase of these methods.
She indicated that at present her unit had only one inject - able method and few oral methods available. The senior nursing officer said she would seek permission to inform clients of the situation via mass media or by notices posted in the clinics to avoid a disclosure similar to that made by Mr. Ingraham regarding the vaccine shortage.